The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - Travel

A year of coves, cliffs and cones of chips

As England’s Year of the Coast celebrates the best of the country’s beautiful edges, Claire Boobbyer sets out to explore a stretch of Suffolk by bike


Boat cabin windows, dipped in golden light, gleamed in the blue dawn. Gullies writhed through estuary mud on the Deben River, and oystercatc­hers tiptoed, drilling for mussels with the precision of road diggers. We stood on the quayside at Woodbridge in Suffolk, as the sun peered at fractured cloud reflected in water. There, scooped in the mud, was a ship-shaped imprint where once a boat had lain.

Most of us think the English coast is only for summer, but might be surprised by how delightful it can be all year round – from fresh spring breezes on the Kent cliffs to moody autumn Yorkshire seascapes or, indeed, off-season Suffolk, as I discovered recently.

There could be no better time for it. This is, after all, England’s Year of the Coast, a 12-month programme of events across the country designed to mark the creation of the new England Coast Path – a 2,700-mile National Trail which will, when fully open, be the longest coastal walking route in the world (route details at nationaltr­ The aim of the project is to help reignite our love of the country’s edges in all their rugged, quaint, tempestuou­s glory.

And so, the summer crowds long gone, my partner and I embarked on a week-long tour, determined to sample the best of the British coastline. Together, we cycled more than 100 miles up the Suffolk coast, beginning in Woodbridge and pedalling all the way up to Southwold on an eight-night trip with the Carter Company, which arranged luggage transfers, GPS routes and lovely hotels along the way.

Woodbridge is a beauty. From the white Tide Mill on the quayside, passing the moored ships and small boats for sale, it slopes gently up to a lane heaving with indie shops. Beyond is the market square, with the wonky Kings Head, all diamond windows and Tudor timbers, and a Shire Hall topped by a Dutch gable.

Suffolk by the sea is pretty flat, but we puffed up a few hillocks and freewheele­d down. At Waldringfi­eld village the Deben was millpond still, bathed in crystal blue afternoon light, and the Adnams Ghost Ship beer we drank at the waterside Maybush Inn slipped down a treat.

North of the Deben is the Ore where Orford, the prettiest of Suffolk villages, huddles. To reach it, we pedalled north along the river from Woodbridge past golden reed beds and curved-beaked avocets stalking the river mud. At the Teapot Tearoom in Wickham Market, the owner gave us warming broccoli and stilton soup for lunch and asked

about our route. Through Rendlesham Forest, we said, famous for a UFO sighting in 1980.

Next it was on to Orford’s groomed main street, edged by cute red-brick homes, leading to the River Ore. From the quayside we could see Orford Ness, the largest plant-dense shingle spit in

the northern hemisphere, tufted with sea pea and sea kale. On our last visit, Chinese water deer and hares bounded around on a day where intense sun had burnt all sounds from the spit, save the crunch of our boots on the stones.

At Orford, the village is hemmed in by the spit: a story of moving edges on the softest of coastlines, where the mouth of the Ore has been slowly shunted south.

That night we stayed at the warm 16th-century Crown and Castle in the shadow of Henry II’s diminutive Orford Castle, and tucked into lightly briny oysters at the Butley Orford Oysterage, which harvests nearby. From Pump Street Bakery, we bought hefty almond croissants, laced in Armagnac syrup, to power us up to Aldeburgh.

Arable fields of green and dug-about dark soil were trimmed by homes and mansions – thatched or timbered – and ancient churches hid behind hedgerowed verges and beside quiet, winding lanes.

The Brudenell Hotel at Aldeburgh rises above the shingle, which slopes towards the sea, and there the shush of salt water over pebbles lulled us into deep, well-earned sleep. Aldeburgh is a gorgeous town with Tudor roots, where candy-coloured homes line the shore and high street, alongside art galleries, indie stores and fish sold from shacks on the beach. At the Suffolk SurMer, we stopped for Butley Creek oysters thermidor slathered in melted Suffolk Gold cheese.

Then we cycled below the gulls up to Dunwich beach, where one third of King John’s fishing port slipped beneath the waves in a storm in 1286. The ghosts of Dunwich past may have floated up the coast, for George Orwell was convinced he glimpsed a phantom while sitting in the grounds of the ruins of the 15th-century church at Walberswic­k, three miles north – a tiny village of great pubs, walks, ice cream and the chance to hook crabs in the creeks close to the River Blyth.

Across the Blyth was our final stop, Southwold, perched handsomely on a cliff with a long sweep of sand, a lighthouse, painted beach huts, and the eccentric Under the Pier Show. A feast at the Swan hotel awaited: baked truffled Baron Bigod cheese, roast turbot fillet, and sublime date pudding.

Nearby, at the Sailor’s Reading Room overlookin­g the waves, amid model boats and photograph­s of weather-beaten fishermen, I reflected on our fresh-air journey along Suffolk’s shape-shifting shore, and just how marvellous the English coast can be. Like the best of treasures, it nourished my soul.

Claire Boobbyer was a guest of the Carter Company (01296 631671; on its Suffolk Seaside Jolly. Prices start at £1,895 pp including eight nights’ B&B accommodat­ion, bicycle hire, GPS routes, Adventure Handbook and luggage transfers

 ?? ?? i On the seashore: the scallop sea sculpture by Maggi Hambling at Aldeburgh in Suffolk
i On the seashore: the scallop sea sculpture by Maggi Hambling at Aldeburgh in Suffolk

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